Pretty versus democratic writing

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"And no other writing system restructures the human lifeworld so drastically as alphabetic writing, Or so democratically, for the alphabet is relatively easy to learn. By contrast, Chinese character writing, though more aesthetically and semantically rich than alphabetic writing can ever hope to be, is elitist, despite heroic efforts to democratize its use...If and when [the citizens of the People's Republic of China] can speak Mandarin,...the alphabet will be introduced--with incalculable losses to literature but massive operational gains elsewhere" (Walter Ong 325).


The above quote, taken from Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age, describes writer Walter Ong's thoughts on how speech and writing may develop in the future People's Republic of China. Despite the fact that the people living in present day China are grouped as simply Chinese-speakers, these individuals actually speak a number of differing Chinese-related languages. Ong's statement regarding Mandarin Chinese stems from the Chinese government's attempt to standardize a universal Chinese language. This would probably aid general operations in some diverse areas, but it could eventually cost such areas their unique diversity.

The same principle applies to Ong's sentiment concerning Chinese character writing. An alphabetic writing system might be helpful with more people being able to understand and readily use it, but the art and beauty of the unique Chinese characters would inevitably be lost. This loss of art strongly reminded me of the art of calligraphy. Calligraphy seems to nearly be a lost art that is now mainly reserved for ceremonial purposes and artistic inscriptions, when once it was readily used in documents both personal and important. And even though this art tremendously assisted in the development of our modern writing skills, I think we've overthrown what is potently visually stimulating in favor of simplistic practicality. I'm certainly all for accomplishing task quickly via writing, but I do sometimes wish that more time and care might be poured into a written document or note with an individualistic flair.


If you'd like to read what my classmates have written on this or similar subjects, simply click the almost lost art below.

Thumbnail image for calligraphy.jpg

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This page contains a single entry by MadelynGillespie published on February 8, 2010 4:16 PM.

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